FRENCHVILLE, Maine — Although a little over 28 years have passed and retired Maine State Police Maj. Charles Love has long since put away his badge and gun, he can still remember the sights and sounds on that December morning after the child he would know only as Baby Jane Doe was born and subsequently abandoned in a Frenchville gravel pit.
Baby Jane Doe has been at the center of a cold case ever since a dog named Paca first discovered the newborn and carried her back to the home of its owners, Armand and Lorraine Pelletier, less than a quarter mile away.
“It was so cold, just very, very cold,” Love recalled from his home in Winthrop recently. “I was not the first officer on the scene, but I was one of the earliest. I was walking the scene, trying to gather information. It was so quiet in that gravel pit, and it appeared that a vehicle had driven in, as the tracks were very clear in the snow. Right near them were plainly a set of dog tracks. I turned and followed those paw prints right back to the house, where it had dropped the baby right by the door.”
Three decades and countless hours of investigation later, the case still has more questions than answers.
Who was the mother? What circumstances led her to that gravel pit to deliver — and then abandon — her own baby on Dec. 7, 1985?
Why did no one ever come forward with information on a woman who had been pregnant and then suddenly childless?
Where did the mother go after the birth, and how did she avoid being seen?
A frozen little baby
“In this case and like in so many old cases, there are people who are aware and want to see the truth come out,” Sgt. Darren Crane with the Maine State Police major crimes unit, said recently. “Every once in awhile a phone call or other information comes in, and we work it.”
Crane is now the lead investigator on the case.
At the time, then Maine State Police Detective Arnold Gahagan was the lead investigator. Now retired, Gahagan declined to comment for this story, given the open status of the cold case.
At some point in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 7, 1985, a woman delivered a full-term baby girl on a gravel pit access road near the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Pelletier Avenue in Frenchville and then drove — or was driven — away, leaving the infant behind as temperatures dipped well below zero.
That’s where Paca, a Siberian Husky belonging to the Pelletiers, became the catalyst for the investigation that followed.
At the time, the Pelletiers lived on what was called Bouchard Road, roughly 700 feet from the access road.
“This is something you don’t forget,” Armand Pelletier said during a recent interview from the couple’s home in Bangor.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Lorraine Pelletier said.
Armand Pelletier recalled how that morning he had let the family dog out and, not long after, Paca was back at the sliding glass door, trying to get their attention.
“She kept pounding at the door’s window to get back in,” Armand Pelletier said. “She kept pounding, and after awhile, I went to go look, and I could not believe what I saw. I saw what looked like a little rag doll, but then we saw it was a frozen little baby.”
Lorraine Pelletier remembers “a cute little girl with reddish blond hair” that they were later told weighed 6 pounds, 8 ounces.
“It was 30 below [zero] that night,” Lorraine Pelletier said. “What [officials] told us was she could not have lived more than 30 minutes.”
The Pelletiers believe the cries of the infant or its scent led Paca right to her.
“Paca carried her so carefully by her head right to our back steps,” Lorraine Pelletier said.
Copies of the state medical examiner’s report were not immediately available, and the current whereabouts of Baby Jane Doe’s body could not be determined. Authorities cited the open investigation and noted that any files associated with the case were not easily accessible due to the amount of time that has passed since the incident.
In 1985, investigators told the Pelletiers that any wounds caused by Paca in no way contributed to the baby’s death.
“There were some wounds in her head, but they were completely superficial,” Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore said on a recent visit to the scene. “The dog did nothing to hurt that little baby.”
‘We just don’t know’
Madore was a state trooper at the time and remembers responding to the Pelletiers’ call nearly 30 years ago.
“I remember that call coming in that a dog had brought a baby to a home,” Madore said. “It was a baby with the umbilical cord and everything.”
Madore said law enforcement officials were able to track the dog’s path back to the scene of the baby’s birth, where media reports from the time said frozen blood and footprints were discovered.
“I remember it being not far off the road,” Madore said. “It had to have happened when it was dark because it would have been in plain view otherwise.”
It was unclear if the mother was alone at the time, but Madore said evidence at the scene did suggest she may have held on to the hood or trunk of a car while delivering the baby.
“Would someone be able to do that and then be capable of driving herself away?” he said. “We just don’t know.”
While unsure of the number of hours spent on the case, Crane said last week that the initial investigation was exhaustive, despite the fact law enforcement had little solid information.
Love, who was at the time a state police sergeant, agreed.
“We were working with the media, but we really had nothing to feed them because we literally had nothing,” he said. “We were telling people to be on the lookout for people shopping for items that could be used to control heavy bleeding, but that never amounted to anything. At the time, we were very concerned about the health of the mother, the woman who gave birth to the baby. We thought that she would have had to seek treatment somewhere, but again, that didn’t come to anything, either.”
Police questioned a couple who had been spotted in a local department store around the time of the incident, Crane said.
The woman, he said, reportedly had blood on her pants and was acting “distressed.”
Police immediately released a composite sketch of the couple to the media.
Citing the nature of the investigation, Crane could not divulge specifics, but the Pelletiers remember a couple matching that description coming forward and being cleared.
“It turned out the woman was in a department store shopping and had just gotten her period,” Lorraine Pelletier said. “They were Canadians, and they came forward, and they were ruled out as suspects by the police.”
Other than a description of a small car based on tire tracks found at the scene, police had very little evidence, and the trail went cold.
But officials are not giving up.
“Anytime new information comes in that we can work and investigate, that is what we do,” Crane said.
He has no doubt there is someone out there who holds the key to the mystery.
“There are people who care and who want the truth to come out,” he said. “It’s like a puzzle, and we keep trying to put the pieces together, [and] I always believe there is someone out there with the right information and that missing piece.”
Improved technology, including DNA screening, could come into play if the right piece of evidence is discovered, Crane said.
The Pelletiers, now in their early 60s, are left to wonder if that missing puzzle piece is the mother herself.
“Down the road, she may come forward,” Lorraine Pelletier said. “If she was say 20 at the time, now she is in her 50s and she is facing problems, those problems could come from ‘I left my baby to die.’”
And why, the Pelletiers wonder, did she not seek other options?
“We don’t have children,” Lorraine Pelletier said. “We could never have children, [and] what I don’t understand is why if the woman did not want her baby, she did not ring our bell, leave the baby on our steps and just run away.”
Armand agreed, adding softly, “If she had lived, we could have adopted her.”
The Pelletiers moved to Bangor in the summer of 1986, and Paca lived to be 12-years-old, dying of cancer in 1987.
There is no statute of limitations affecting the incident, Crane said, and, if identified, those involved could be facing homicide or manslaughter charges.
“It would be up to the [Maine] attorney general,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Bill Stokes said Tuesday that the case remains open and is still under investigation. Because of that, all case files and investigative records that are in the possession of the attorney general’s office remain confidential and cannot be released to the public.
“I don’t know if this case will ever be solved,” Madore said. “Some cases are just unsolvable, [but] certainly you have to wonder if there is a woman out there, and if she is still alive, is her conscience bothering her.”
Even though he retired from the state police in 2003 after joining in 1970, Love said the case “is always in the back of my mind.”
“I was just asking one of the Aroostook County detectives about it about a year and a half ago,” he said. “It’s just one of those you always wonder about, how that could have happened and who could have done something like that.”
The years have done nothing to lessen the impact of the incident for the Pelletiers.
“I think of it all the time, especially every December or when we see a husky dog,” Lorraine Pelletier said. “It is something in our life that will never leave us.”
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Maine State Police, Troop F, at 800-924-2261 or 532-5400.